Hillary Clinton campaigns for threatened Democrats in NH; avid crowd less than expected

Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, joins U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., left, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., during a get out the vote rally center, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 in Nashua, NH
Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, joins U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., left, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., during a get out the vote rally center, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 in Nashua, NH AP

Hillary Clinton came to this small but politically pivotal state Sunday to re-introduce herself after a six-year absence. But there was no introduction necessary.

Enthusiastic supporters gathered in the gym at Nashua Community College, undaunted by the threat of snow, to catch a glimpse of Clinton who was in town to offer an endorsement of vulnerable state Democrats in Tuesday’s election - as well as thank New Hampshire for its crucial support during her failed 2008 presidential campaign.

“In 2008, during the darkest days of my campaign you lifted me up, you gave me my voice back,” Clinton told the crowd. “You taught me so much about grit and determination and I will never forget that. So my being here today is because I want to thank the people of New Hampshire.”

Standing in front of a massive American flag, Clinton was joined onstage by Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who are both running for re-election in tight races.

“Are we excited to welcome Hillary back to New Hampshire?” Shaheen said. “Are we ready for Hillary?”

“Hill-a-ry!” the crowd roared. “Hill-a-ry!”

Even though Clinton was in New Hampshire for this election - and not the next one - the road to the White House is never too far from the minds of residents whose state holds the first in the nation presidential primary.

"I love her. She’s a very strong intelligent woman,” gushed Homa Jaferey, a community college student who came to the United States from England in 1990 just before Clinton’s husband entered the White House. “I just want the Clintons back.”

New Hampshire has been good to Clinton.

She pulled off a stunning victory in the presidential primary in 2008 in a race that Barack Obama, fresh off a victory in the Iowa caucuses, was expected to win in part because of her field organization.

“She has a very deep reservoir of good will,” said Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic activist who was a Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire in 2008. “People know her. She fought for every last vote she could.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, has said she will decide next year whether she is running for president. But polls show she dominates the potential Democratic field in New Hampshire.

Fifty eight percent of likely primary voters here say they would vote for Clinton, according to an October WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Eighty four percent have a favorable opinion of Clinton while only 10 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

Desie Roberts, a photographer who attended the rally, said he plans to vote for Clinton if she runs in part because of her accomplishments as secretary of state. “I think she’s done a lot for the country,” he said.

Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant who worked for 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said Clinton’s biggest problem in New Hampshire -- where voters expect to meet and talk to candidates - is her ever present caravan of cars and phalanx of staff.

“She needs to get out of this bubble she’s been in for so long,” he said. “The big challenge is to see voters in a way they can get up close and personal with you.”

In recent weeks, Clinton has hit the campaign trail for Democrats running in tough races across from the nation, including Colorado, Kentucky and North Carolina, states where her former boss, President Barack Obama, is unpopular and unwanted. Clinton returned to Iowa, which holds the first caucuses in the nation, in September, joking “I’m back.”

Organizers said they expected thousands to attend the Sunday event, but the Nashua Fire Marshall’s Office put the number at 700. Outside, a bus organized by Ready for Hillary, the political action committee that hopes to lay the groundwork for a second presidential run, was handing out buttons.

“The election is really about our values. Who are we in 2014, as a people?” Clinton said before criticizing Republicans’ tactics. “Fear is the last resort of people who have run out of ideas and run out of hope.”

Oftentimes, like Sunday, Clinton has appeared alongside female candidates at events designed to push women to vote, an acknowledgment of her place in history as the first viable female presidential candidate. In addition to electing a female governor, New Hampshire is the first state in the nation to send an all-female delegation to Washington.

“Woman’s rights are on the frontier of freedom everyone in the world,” Clinton said after speaking about equal pay for women.

Clinton referenced her new granddaughter, Charlotte, several times during her remarks.

“This whole grandmothers club is a pretty remarkable experience,” she said. “It really does lift your spirits and keep you focused on the future.”

Shaheen faces Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from neighboring Massachussettes in one of the closest Senate races in the nation while Hassan faces a largely unknown Republican businessman Walt Havenstein, in what has become a surprisingly tight race in recent weeks.

Clinton, Shaheen and Hassan walked down from the stage after the event to the Tom Petty song “American Girl.”

“Women represent the majority of voters and she’s strong on woman’s issues,” said Lou D’Allesandro, a veteran state senator and Democratic operative from New Hampshire who usually keeps candidates guessing about who receive his coveted endorsement, but plans to support Clinton if she runs.

Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, finished second-place in the presidential primary in New Hampshire in 1992, helping propel him to the nomination and earning him the nickname the Comeback Kid.

A few weeks ago, Bill Clinton returned to the state to spoke to 1,200 people at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner.

“No family in American public life owes more to the people of New Hampshire than Hillary and I do,” Bill Clinton said.